Monday, December 12, 2011

Guerneville woman charged in Santa Rosa church embezzlement postpones plea in California

A Guerneville woman accused of embezzling more than $712,000 from a Santa Rosa church postponed entering a plea during a court appearance Tuesday morning.

Eleanor Jane Zapanta, 51, waived her right to a preliminary hearing so that settlement talks could continue between her attorney and the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office prosecutor.

Zapanta, who has remained in custody since her September arrest, faces a maximum of 12 years in state prison. Sources close to the case said she hopes for an agreement with the judge that would limit her sentence to three years in exchange for a plea.

In court Tuesday, Judge Ken Gnoss set a new enter-of-plea hearing for 8:30 a.m. Dec. 6.

Investigators said Zapanta wrote about 250 unauthorized checks to herself from 2004 to 2010 while working as the business manager of the Center for Spiritual Living on Occidental Road.

Controversy causes rift at Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church in Michigan

A local preacher is accused of embezzling thousands of dollars in church money. Now investigators are examining church records going back several years.

The attorney for Reverend Arthur Pearson denies the claims but the allegations have left the church in turmoil. For 84 years, Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church, at 510 Franklin St. SE, has had a reputation in Grand Rapids based on honor and trust.
"Trust, respect, knowing that we had a faith that we believed in. We had a God we believed in," says Church member Johnnell Williams.
But now, all of that is at risk due to allegations surrounding the church's pastor Reverend Arthur Pearson.
"He's stolen from God," claims Johnnell Williams.
Johnnell and her husband Clay Williams are long standing members of Pilgrim Rest. Johnnell since she was a teenager, and Clay was a trustee until a year and a half ago. They both say they were devastated when rumors started to surface that thousands of dollars in church money had been taken without authorization.
During a telephone interview, Nathan Mayfield, chairman of the deacon board said in August Pearson admitted to the congregation that he took $5,000 in unauthorized funds.
"Somebody had found out about what he had taken that is the reason he confessed in front of the church," said Clay.
His wife said, "And I had talked to the trustee and said if he has admitted to $5,000 trust me there is probably more. And he started to question a little bit more."
The Williams and Mayfield say Pearson made another admission in October. This time to the executive board. The admission by Pearson involves taking amounts of $20,000 and $25,000 on separate occasions.
"I think he needs to make restitution and if this is a federal or felony he needs to pay the consequences. He knew," said Johnnell Williams.
She says she, and other women in the church, pressured the trustees and deacons to remove Reverend Pearson and press charges as well as hire a firm to conduct a forensic audit. A captain with the Grand Rapids Police Department would not say who or how many people they are investigating, but did confirm that church leaders have filed a police report alleging embezzlement and misuse of church funds. That captain says this investigation is ongoing and the prosecutors office is aware of it.
Reverend Pearson's lawyer denies any wrongdoing. In a telephone interview, attorney Jerry Ashford, one of Pearson's lawyers said the "allegations are unfortunate and absolutely false. He said no crime was committed here."
Meanwhile the church is divided on Pearson's future. Members were asked to vote on November 13th on whether the church should fire Pearson. The majority voted, nearly two to one, to keep him in the pulpit.
The following Sunday WZZM 13's Angela Cunningham attended service at Pilgrim Rest to see what Reverend Pearson had to say to his congregation about the allegations against him and the vote to keep him. She noticed several church members mentioning how surprised they were that Pearson did not mention anything about the investigation or the missing money."
"This is the money that we were supposed to use top build our church and strengthen our community, strengthen our children, support our children and we are not doing that," Johnnell said.
The question now is can this house divided still stand in the midst of all this controversy.
Some church members, including the Williams question the validity and results of the vote to retain Pearson because they claim children as young as five years old were allowed to vote.

Church director charged with embezzlement

Church director charged with embezzlement